He was a precocious child, and a morbid and impractical, though versatile, man, with a facility in writing verse on all manner of subjects and in nearly every known meter. His sentimentalism appealed to a wide circle, but his was one of the tapers which were extinguished by James Russell Lowell. He had also a reputation as a geologist. He entered Yale College at the age of 16, and graduated at the age of 20 at the head of his class. After graduating he was admitted to the practice of medicine and relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, where he pursued that profession. In 1824 he was briefly a professor of chemistry at West Point, where he resigned after a few months, and subsequently several years of his labor were devoted to assisting Noah Webster in editing his great American Dictionary of the English Language of 1828. Most of his life was spent at his home in New Haven, Connecticut.